With ‘Cowboy Carter,’ Beyoncé reminds us that she ‘has always been country’

The album’s success is “telling country music that what you may have thought the listening base was is more expansive and diverse than you ever could have imagined,” says Dallas-based writer Taylor Crumpton.

By Kristen CabreraApril 5, 2024 3:00 pm, ,

Even for the casual observer, it’s probably pretty clear that Beyoncé is one of those phenomenal people that is just seemingly good at everything. Her work has spanned decades, and she’s known not just for her music, but also her style, her dancing and her ability to tell stories in so many dimensions.

Now, as you’ve no doubt heard, the Texan has firmly placed a boot in country music. Beyoncé’s latest album, “Cowboy Carter,” has spurred multiple waves of reaction: fandom, think pieces, even some backlash – and then the backlash to the backlash.

Dallas-based writer Taylor Crumpton recently wrote about Beyoncé’s defiance of country stereotypes for Time and joined the Standard with more.

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:

Texas Standard: Let’s start with Beyoncé’s style. You actually draw some bigger connections from her curated look for this latest album. First, could you sort of describe what she’s done visually? 

Taylor Crumpton: Of course. So when we first saw Beyoncé at the Grammys, a lot of conversation occurred around her dress. And as we know, this was our first look of her post-“Renaissance” era.

Photo credit: Parkwood Entertainment LLC

So the outfit she was in, which was designed by Pharrell Williams, who has a couple of production credits on Cowboy Carter, was from his Western-inspired menwear collection for Louis Vuitton. And when we saw the outfit, a lot of people said, “oh, you know, maybe this is an homage to Texas,” her home state, which she is from.

But for those who are very familiar in the way in which she uses fashion as a form of communication in storytelling, the rumors began to start about a country album, right? And when you look at that outfit, it reminded me of the Man in Black, of Johnny Cash, of the Outlaw.

And even when she bit her thumb, right, I interviewed a fashion and costume historian, Shelby Christie, and she said it’s a reference to a Shakespeare saying biting your thumb at someone is making fun at them. So, you know, visually, she’s telling country music in a number of ways, “I’m in this space, and I’m here to bite my thumb at you for the way in which you unjustly treated me at the 2016 CMA Awards.”

Then the next time we see her is in Las Vegas at the Super Bowl, and we’re seeing a more blond bombshell Dolly Parton hair raised to heaven, Texas pageant beauty queen. I mean, she loves referencing all of the beauty and glamor and allure and hairspray that us Texans wear, right?

So we’re seeing more of a okay, this is a second interpretation of country and Western, but it’s more feminine, it’s more soft, it’s more sultry. And we know that for years, Dolly Parton has asked and requested Beyoncé to cover “Jolene.” So you’re seeing, okay, this is coming.

There is a masculine element and a feminine element. And when you’ve got “Cowboy Carter,” you see that in her songs where there’s some very loving, feminine like soft ballads, but also some very harsh, rugged Clint Eastwood, I would do a Western shootout. So she uses fashion as a way to communicate and kind of tell us of what’s to come.

It’s worth paying attention to all of this because you say it’s so deliberate. What do you say about what it means to the listening public when this has just been breaking all the streaming records? What’s that tell you?

I think it shows us that this change has occurred in the consumer. You know, when she came into music, genres were very fixed and solid and firm, but she has been one of the most prominent musicians to break down those barriers and to really create the foundation and environment for a post-genre listening society, for a post-genre environment, for artists to explore fluidity so they’re not beholden to just one aspect or one monolith or one identity.

And it’s showing that there is a thirst and a consumer base who wants to learn about this and know about it, and also telling country music that what you may have thought the listening base was is more expansive and diverse than you ever could have imagined.

» MORE: Beyoncé’s ready to top the country charts, but is the industry ready for her?

How about you personally? Is there a song you can’t get enough of?

I love “Blackbiird.” It’s so beautiful. I listened to it before I fell asleep last night. Because there’s something about “you were only waiting for this moment to arise” that I think is so simple, but beautiful and resonant. Because how many times have we been waiting for that big break, or for the sun to peek out of the clouds, out of the sky?

There is a divinity in which Beyoncé sings and has always had in her music. You know, she’s a church girl. She grew up in Houston. Her favorite pastor is Donnie McClurkin, and she’s always brought that type of understanding and wisdom and knowledge, so that’s a standout.

But then I also think “Levii’s Jeans” is going to be great for pool time, is going to be great for the summer season. I think “Bodyguard” is sexy. It’s sultry. That’s something that, you know, the woman who created “Bootylicious” always does. And you know, my favorites change on the day. But that duet with Miley Cyrus … if you want to talk about two child stars who we’ve seen develop into women and take ownership of their careers and their identity and how they’re perceived – beautiful, chef’s kiss, too.

Beyoncé is always inventing and reinventing and paying respect, as you said, to those who came before her and blazing a trail ahead. What takes are you tired of, though? What do you want people to sort of stop saying about her?

I think it’s funny how we’re discussing a Black Texan – someone who was on the cover of Texas Monthly, has performed at the Houston Rodeo, has always been proud to be from Texas – and a common critique that she has received since the release of “16 Carriages” and “Texas Hold ‘Em” is she has no understanding of country music; she is using this as a ploy to make money; this is inauthentic and ungenuine.

When if you look from the beginning of her career, she has always been country. She has always done country western. She has always come back to the Houston Rodeo. She is showing that we are a state that has given the progressive outlaw movement, that Willie Nelson come from, that honky tonks come from Texas, that Western swing come from Texas.

I think often times people look at Nashville, Tennessee, really as the go-to for country music, when in fact the first commercial recording of country music was recorded in Texas.

So I think she’s telling folks who may feel that they are self-appointed experts in this genre: “No, let me bring it back home and let me bring it back to Texas and let me show you how we do country down here,” because it’s different than what country has done outside of our state borders.

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